by Joe Nelson
An astronaut must come to terms with his sins in the isolation of space.
The Dark Side Of The Moon.
By Joe Nelson.
The weightless form of Captain Thorpe floated gracefully in the void of space as the last ray of sunlight disappeared behind the Moon‘s horizon. A corona of light, hypnotic in its beauty, shone with a concluding display of spectacular radiance before finally disappearing and leaving him in the shadows of the dark side of the moon.
He shivered at the sudden drop in temperature but like always, watching the sun set in outer space was worth it. Especially as the sun would not emerge again for another fourteen days.
“Alright Bill, I’m coming in now.” Thorpe said, speaking into his radio as he had done a thousand times before. He had to inform his friend and co-pilot to ready the airlock before he could drift silently into position at the far side of the base.
As he passed the familiar surroundings of the station exterior he considered the importance of his mission.
A five year excursion on the Lunar Eye, NASA’s latest top of the range orbital space station situated above the surface of the moon and designed to explore the possibilities of long range communication with distant worlds. It was a ground breaking mission, one that said NASA was serious about finding intelligent life in the Universe and one that Tom Thorpe and Bill Edwards were passionate about.
Both men had been hand picked for the position not just because they were the best scientists NASA had, but because they had known each other since childhood. They were like brothers and they always had each others backs. In NASA’s mind that made them the ideal pair to man the lonely station for five long years.
Now, the mission was entering its final six months and in the time they had spent on board the Steigersson Light-Wave Communication Amplifier, or ‘Radio-Alien’ as it had been dubbed by Bill, had picked up only one transmission. As exciting as it had been for them when it was first received, it later proved to be nothing more than white noise thought to have emerged from a decade old space probe. At the time it had been a great disappointment to both of them but they had learned through bitter experience that gigantic leaps take many small steps.
Thorpe approached the exterior airlock eager to get inside, space was a cold and dangerous place at night and not somewhere he cared to be. He entered the circular decompression chamber and waited for Bill to close the exterior door.
“C’mon Bill, where are you?” he muttered impatiently to himself.
Several minutes passed and Thorpe stared edgily through the reinforced window, trying to spot the familiar form of his friend in the gloomy corridors of the station.
After a few minutes he gave up waiting and decided to shut the airlock himself. The massive circular door was difficult to shut manually and Thorpe struggled to shift the gigantic disc, slowly moving it inwards and firmly securing the lock as it closed.
With the exterior door shut, air rushed aggressively into the chamber, finally allowing him to remove the fish-bowl helmet he’d grown to hate. He deeply inhaled the fresh air before hanging his equipment in the airlock cupboards. Though the oxygen of the station was no different to that of his suit, the psychological effect of removing his helmet made it feel like he was breathing Earth‘s own air. It was an illusion he was glad to entertain.
Finally he passed through the interior door and into the confines of the station itself.
“Bill, where the hell are you Bill?” he called angrily, wondering why his friend had not opened the door for him.
“I’m here Tom.”
The figure of Edwards stood casually in the corridor framed by the bright halogen floor lights that lit the station. He was wearing his usual coffee stained flight suit with a deep tear in the left shoulder, his face calm and emotionless as he regarded his friend.
“Bill I must’ve told you a thousand times to be ready with the airlock door. You know how hard it is to shut that thing manually, I swear you do it just to piss me off!”
“I’m sorry Tom. But you know I can’t operate the airlock.”
“Well you never had a problem before, what the hell changed?”
“I died Tom.”
Thorpe silently turned his head away. He couldn’t bear to look at Bill so instead he just walked away.
Thorpe lay in bed staring at the ceiling, the silence was deafening as he tried desperately to sleep but every time he closed his eyes he would see the same horrific things over and over again.
Eventually giving up on the prospect of rest, he sat up and reached for the glass of water on his bedside table. Grabbing the small bottle of pills that lay beside it, he popped two tranquilizers into his mouth, swallowing them with a gulp of water. The medical supplies had been running lower as Thorpe’s dependence had developed but that didn’t stop him from taking more each day. How else was he supposed to rest?
Turning his gaze to the window and the emptiness of space, staring deeply into it’s depths, he began asking himself the heaviest questions of all. Slowly the pills began to take effect and Tom could feel his body relax as his mind numbed and a blissful curtain descended over his brain separating him from the stress of life.
“Those things are poison Tom.” a familiar voice said from behind.
Thorpe turned his head and saw Bill standing in his quarters.
“How long have you been there?”
“I‘m always here Tom.”
The two men turned their heads to the window once more. Silently they stared into the void of space, both enjoying the company of a good friend. After a few moments of silence Tom spoke
“Do you remember that time we went to Donnie Lexington’s barbeque?”
“Of course I do Tom.”
“Donnie had bought this brand new Porsche…
“It was a roadster.”
“…and he got into this huge fight with his wife over something…”
“The roast chicken.”
“Right, that was it. Anyway his wife gets so pissed off she disappears for a couple of hours and she comes back with a big smile on her face.”
“Yes I remember, she drove off in his Porsche and she left it in a bad neighbourhood before walking back.”
“Ha ha, and Donnie says to her “Where the hell is the new car?” So Susie replies “I left it outside Rockefeller’s Bar” and everyone’s like “You did WHAT?”
“Because it’s a rough neighbourhood.”
“Yeah, so Donnie’s doing his nut and Susie’s deliberately playing dumb like “Oh yeah, its probably been stolen by now, sorry hon.” So Donnie screams at her, “You idiot, it was supposed to be you’re birthday present.”
Bill’s expression remained still as Thorpe collapsed in hysterics, trying to blurt out the rest of the story in-between fits of laughter. “Ha ha, they… spent the rest of the night… driving around and… filing police reports.”
It was a good memory Tom thought, one they would both treasure until the day they die. Then he remembered, until the day he dies.
Thorpe quickly went silent and sniffed, suddenly sober at the sad realisation. He turned his head to look at Bill but the room was empty and he was alone once more.
In his dream Tom was naked and floating out to sea. Though he screamed at the top of his voice there was no one to hear him and the harder he swam the further away the distant shore became.
Finally with all his strength spent he began to sink, his body and mind giving in as the current pulled him downwards into the dark murky depths of the ocean.
As death approached he began to feel a soft beating, resounding in the rear of his subconscious, gradually growing in volume as his lifeless form descended. At first a dull thump, the feeling quickly became a sound increasing in its ferocity, relentless in its attack. Soon the sound was so loud it moved his entire body and the water around him with each dreadful beat. Tom tried to scream as the banging threatened to tear him apart but he was submerged and could make no sound. The thumping increased as Tom flailed hopelessly, frantically trying to free himself from the liquid embrace, yet still the sound grew louder.
Then he was awake.
Thorpe sat upright, a sudden chill ran down his spine, his bed sheets were soaked in sweat and he was scared and alone. His eyes scanned the room not sure what they would find, to his relief the place was quiet and still.
He turned his eyes to the tranquilizers on his bedside table, the bottle was almost empty. He had been taking far too many, he couldn’t help wondering if he was addicted. Then he realised he didn’t care as he popped another two into his mouth and swallowed. All he worried about was becoming numb, forgetting the pain. Slowly the pills began to take effect, comforting him once more. He turned his damp covers over and placed his head back on the pillow.
As he lay there on his side he could hear the sound of his beating heart, it reminded him of his nightmare. For a moment he lay transfixed by the fear he had just experienced, praying silently that it was nothing more than a bad dream but as he did so, his pulse quickened and the beating grew louder still.
Tom threw his pillow over his head in an effort to silence the awful sound but it only grew louder again. He soon realised it was not his heart that made the noise but something altogether different. The sound was very real and it was coming from outside the station. Quickly, he threw on his flight suit and grabbed a torch, the terror galvanising him into action.
He emerged into the corridor outside his quarters as the banging reached fever-pitch. His eyes furtively dashed about the length of the tunnel, scanning for abnormalities but nothing obvious could be seen. It appeared the same as it always had. Its halogen floor lights throwing up a bright white light and the contrast creating pitch black shadows for demons to hide in. His mind thought what he dared not say, something was coming for him.
After a moment he ran. He ran not in fear but with purpose, as though he knew exactly where the source of the horrendous noise was and as he did he dared not look back for fear of what he would see.
By the time Tom reached the starboard viewing chamber, the sound had become a terrifying assault of monotonous drumming. Its demanding call, like the furious beating of a front door, resounded throughout the Lunar Eye and shaking the very walls of the base.
Tom felt like he was reaching the end of his sanity as he stared at his reflection in the reinforced glass of the viewing platform. Slowly he approached the window, gazing outwards into space, his eyes nervously darting about the exterior, trying to discover the cause of the sound. The window offered the best view of the station exterior yet it was of little help to him now. The light of his torch was useless against the deep blackness of space but still he searched to find something, anything to ease his mind.
He looked left then right and left again before his gaze flashed back as he did a double take. In the corner of his eye he saw something, movement by one of the exterior antenna.
What was it? Was it even real? Not sure if he’d even seen anything at all Tom desperately tried to focus the light of his torch through the window. His face pressed tightly against the glass as he strained to see.
He was staring at the communication mast, holding his breath in fear and anticipation as slowly the beating began to decrease in volume. Every beat gradually growing quieter until eventually, all he could hear was the drumming of his own heart. After a moment he let himself relax, exhaling slowly and regaining his composure as the feeling of safety returned.
Finally calm, he smiled softly, laughing to himself at his own childish fears. Gently he drew his face back from the glass and as he caught sight of his own reflection terror rushed through him once more.
Staring directly back at him from the infinity of space, dark eyes peering straight into his soul was the face of Bill Edwards silent and still. Judging him.
Tom turned, shooting his gaze backwards, the white light of his torch landing squarely in Bill’s face. Edwards didn’t even flinch.
For a terrible moment the two men stared at each other, Thorpe frozen with fear as a thousand words were spoken in the silence that hung in the air. Then Edwards calmly turned and walked out of the room.
The Lunar Eye Space Station was a terribly lonely place and Tom Thorpe and Bill Edwards had spent five long years in it’s dark corridors and claustrophobic spaces. Together they had been the very best of friends and had lived as brothers but now Tom was alone in space and Bill was dead.
Thorpe considered this as he played the strange transmission from outer space. Why was Bill still here? What did he want? Were they still friends?
The thoughts kept playing in Tom’s head like a broken record but the truth was that Tom Thorpe didn’t want to be alone. Bill Edwards had been with him longer than anyone, longer than his parents, longer than his ex-wife, longer even than his bitch of a girlfriend who slept with anyone she felt like.
Tom Thorpe wasn’t ready to give up his best friend to this bastard station and all its evils. Time was running out, in six months Tom was going home and Bill would be left here and after five long years together, over two hundred-thousand miles from Earth they would be apart for the first time ever. He wasn’t sure he could live with that and what made it worse was Carol Edwards. What the hell was Tom going to say to Bill’s wife? Somehow sorry didn’t seem appropriate.
Edwards had been a good man, a loving husband and father which was more than Tom could say of himself. He had been glad to leave Earth and his train wreck of a life behind, he had nothing left to return to but Bill did, Bill had everything to return to.
“It should have been me.” Tom whispered to himself as he stared into the blinking red light of the video’s recording finished screen. He had missed the whole transmission, it didn’t matter he thought to himself, he could play it again later, if he cared.
“I’m cold Tom.” A voice whispered from behind. Thorpe turned to see Bill sitting in the next seat “I don’t want to be cold anymore.”
“I’m sorry I couldn’t stop it Bill. Please believe me.”
“I do Tom, but I’m still cold. It’s so cold out here, and dark.”
“But you’re not out there Bill, you’re here inside, sitting next to me.”
“No I’m not Tom. I’m out there.” Thorpe’s gaze followed Bill’s finger until he was staring into space, there nothing was out there. He turned back to speak to Bill but the seat was empty.
Thorpe found himself in the ocean once more.
The dream followed the same pattern as it always had, he was alone in deep water, the shore a distant speck growing smaller with each passing second. Again he screamed, his throat raw as his pleas for help were repeated over and over but this time was different.
As his strength drained and all seemed lost, in the distance he could see a small rowboat making its way toward him.
It was an eternity before it would reach his position and he would surely drown before it could but in the dream the boat moved with a supernatural speed, skipping large areas of water and reappearing closer in the blink of an eye. As it glided silently towards him he could see that the boat was empty. No one had come to save him but as long as he could get himself onto the vessel he could row himself back to shore.
He clawed desperately at the sides, trying to lift himself out of the water but the wood was slippery and each time he tried he would fall back in.
Finally, exhausted and beaten Tom stopped trying. As he floated there, holding onto the side of the boat he contemplated the futility of his situation but something within him refused to quit.
With a last, mighty effort, Tom hurled himself upwards, hands desperately pulling at the boat until he was almost out of the ocean. Nearly safe he looked up only to see the sinister occupant of the boat.
An astronaut stood silently regarding Tom’s flopping form like a fisherman considering his catch. Tom stared into the dark, lifeless globe of his face but before he could utter a single plea for help, the astronaut approached.
His thickly gloved hands grabbed Tom’s shoulders in a vice-like grip and lifted him upwards, at first Tom thought he was saved but as he stared into the emptiness of the boatman’s helmet he felt himself falling backwards into the ocean.
The water rushed around him, submerging him in its depths. Each time his head broke the surface, the gloved hand of the astronaut reached down pushing him under once more. The astronaut was drowning him.
Thorpe fought vainly but no matter how hard he tried, he could not escape his killers grasp. Finally Tom gave in, death reached out its cold embrace as he slowly sank into oblivion, the distant sound of laughter echoing in his ears.
Sausages and beans was a meal Tom Thorpe was all too familiar with. The station was full of compact dried meal rations, though after five years the supply had decreased somewhat, there was still plenty of sausages and beans left.
‘Good‘ Tom thought sarcastically as he sat in the mess area playing with his food. He wasn’t hungry, why was he eating? The answer was routine, he had done the same thing every day for the past five years. Time didn’t really exist in space, at least not like it did on Earth. There was no dinner time or bed time but it was healthy to keep up the illusion of routine, at least that’s what the egg-heads at NASA had told him. They were idiots, Tom thought.
A strange sound echoed through the corridors distracting him from his meal. It was a quiet sound, barely audible and probably just his imagination. After a moment of straining his ears, wondering what he had heard, he returned to his food and put the sound out of his mind. Though he knew something was wrong and he soon heard it again. This time it was slightly louder, and recognisable as a distant cry from somewhere deep in the station.
Moving to investigate, Thorpe made his way out of the canteen and down the long hallways. At every turn the sound grew louder drawing him deeper into the station. Descending stairs and maintenance shafts it quickly became clear that the sound was coming from the bowels of the base.
When finally he emerged into the maintenance corridor, the sound became clearer.
Instantly he recognised the sound of crying. It was not a woman or a child but a man, and not just any man, it was the sound of Bill Edwards.
Cautiously following the sound, Tom found his way to the closed door of the maintenance storage room. The sound was coming from inside the room of that much he was sure.
Nervously he placed his hand on the metal handle only for the crying to stop as soon as his skin made contact with the cold metal of the door.
Tom waited, his nerves on edge as he anticipated the inevitable shock that a ghost story always delivered in such circumstances.
Slowly the door peeled back, gradually revealing the horrific sight of an empty room.
Tom sighed heavily, the room was no different than it always had been.
His eyes scanned the shelves and boxes just to be sure but all was as it should be. Familiar equipment in its rightful place, spare oxygen tanks, bolt cutters, blow torches and Bill’s wrench.
His eyes settled on this last item as a chill ran down his spine, in his mind he thought he heard the crying again as he stood in the doorway, transfixed by the inanimate object. Terror raced through his mind and his heart beat faster again before he turned, slamming the door behind him and retreating down the corridor as fast as he could.
Thorpe sat in the communication bay reviewing old recordings from ground control. It took three days for a message to be sent either way and there was a huge backlog to keep him occupied.
Mercifully he was unable to access the private logs of Bill and his family, each personal message was encoded for the eyes of its recipient only and his own private logs were almost non-existent. His parents were dead, his ex-wife wanted nothing to do with him and his whore of a girlfriend was probably out screwing someone, so instead he occupied himself with the messages from mission control.
Each one was short and to the point, some brought back memories such as Christmases and Birthdays spent in space, others concerned the mission and technical details important to the station.
Under normal circumstances a message would arrive once a week, a personal message once a month. Bill had died less than a month ago and Tom didn’t have the courage to relay the news so mission control was so far unaware of the tragedy that had befallen the Lunar Eye.
Mixing the last supplies of painkillers with whiskey Thorpe was growing bored watching the recordings and his mind began to wander.
He decided again to play the strange transmission they had picked up a year ago and in reaching for the bizarre recording he knocked over his whiskey spilling it onto the floor.
“Goddamnit.” he swore, trying to salvage what was left of his drink.
After drying his hand, he popped the disk into the player and began to watch.
It was the same as it had always been, grey static danced on the screen, screeching its relentless white noise. Tom watched hypnotised with the effect of whiskey and drugs as the static would almost seem to form an image before disappearing before forming into anything real.
“Tom.” a voice whispered.
Thorpe sat up and looked around from his chair but he was alone.
“Tom.” the voice whispered again
This time he realised it came from the screen.
Frozen with fear he sat transfixed by the glow of the monitor as a transient image seemed to form in the dancing static. It changed back and forth from something into nothing but Tom knew it was Bill.
“Tom.” the voice said again.
“You…You’re not real.” Tom replied, his voice shaky with fear.
“Tom.” the voice repeated as though it had not heard.
“What do you want?”
“Bill’s dead, You’re not Bill Edwards, he’s dead. Go away there’s nothing for you here.”
Thorpe stood and stepped back unnerved by the ghostly apparition of his friend on the screen.
“Tom.” the image whispered again, relentlessly repeating his name.
“I know what you are.” Thorpe said, his voice cracking with fear and disbelief. He couldn’t quite believe what he was seeing but that did not diminish his terror. “You’re an alien aren’t you?”
“No, you’re… you’re a hallucination, it’s.. the drugs and the booze, you’re a goddamn hallucination. I’m freakin’ seeing things.” Thorpe said trying to convince himself as he held his head in his hands.
“I said go away!”
“I SAID GO AWAY!” with a final defiant burst of anger, Thorpe hurled the whiskey bottle full force into the monitor, it exploded in shards and sparks, smoke rising from its shattered form, the last of the whiskey trickling onto the floor.
Thorpe held his breath unsure as to whether he had succeeded in banishing the demon before finally relaxing and exhaling deeply.
He turned to leave the communication bay but as he turned he could see Bill standing before him, as clear as day.
Edwards stood unflinching, his face inches away from Tom’s, deep red blood pouring from an open head wound as he stared deeply into Tom’s eyes.
Thorpe felt his entire body go stiff as an icy chill ran through him. Unable to move he was transfixed by his fear.
“You murdered me Tom.” Bill rasped.
Then something inside Tom sprang to life. A sudden burst of adrenaline as the terror took hold and he darted out of the room. The unmoving image of Edwards casually regarding his fleeing form.
Thorpe raced through the Lunar Eye desperately trying to escape but at every turn he would see the bloody form of Edwards standing in his path always staring directly at him, whenever he would stop Bill called his name and so he continued to run unable to shake the pursuing ghost. Edwards was always two steps ahead.
Thorpe came at last to the interior airlock door. As he stopped to catch his breath, his eyes darted about the confined spaces of the station desperately searching for his pursuer but the ghost of Edwards was nowhere to be seen.
Thorpe was scared and alone as his mind raced with panic expecting at any second to see Edwards appear without warning and murder him where he stood. He knew it was no less than he deserved.
The memories that had kept him awake for so long and the nightmares that tormented him now seemed to play out before his very eyes.
Thorpe held his head in his hands as the memory he tried so hard to forget forced its way into his mind, raping his brain with uncontrollable ferocity. He had tried so hard to forget but now it was taking over.
He saw it so vividly now, the stupid argument over a game of chess, the resent and anger at having spent five long years in isolation with only Bill Edwards for company and how easy it was to smash his skull with a single blow from a wrench. In a split second of rage Tom Thorpe had destroyed everything. His best friend lay dead. How could he explain this to ground control, to Bill’s wife?
In his heart Tom had known from that moment on he had killed himself as well, for there was no way now he could ever go home. All that was left was to eject Bill’s corpse into space and try to think of a believable lie.
Thorpe was already in the airlock putting on his helmet when a semblance of lucidity returned to his scattered thoughts, he didn’t have a plan, only an idea to get out of the Lunar Eye, out of the evil place that had destroyed everything he cared for and away from the nightmares it showed him.
In space all was silent as Tom Thorpe sat on the outer hull of the space station watching the first rays of sunlight make their way around the Moon’s horizon.
The warmth hit him in the face and just for a second all seemed like it would be okay. Then he noticed Edwards sitting next to him, still and calm as always. Thorpe didn’t try to run anymore, he was in space and there was nowhere left to go.
“I’m sorry Bill. It was an accident, I didn‘t mean to hurt you I just got angry, you know?”
Bill silently regarded his words as he gazed into the morning light.
“It’s my fault Bill. I’m so sorry, please forgive me.” Thorpe began to weep uncontrollably as the motionless form of his friend sat next to him, his eyes fixed forwards.
“I’m sorry Bill. I’m sorry…I’m so sorry.”
“I know Tom.” Bill whispered back.
Thorpe turned his head slowly, afraid to look into the face of his friend but he had disappeared once more. Deep inside Tom knew that this time Bill was gone for good but despite this there was no way Thorpe had the courage to return inside. Glancing at the timer on his oxygen supply, he noticed that he only had nine minutes of air left.
He continued to sit motionless for some time, staying until the sun was completely risen and all its warmth could be felt. His gaze fell on the quickly retreating darkness of the moon and his blood ran cold once more as he couldn’t help but wonder what horrors lay in wait for the next crew to man the Lunar Eye and how they would cope when they encountered the dark side of the moon.